That Time Someone Accused Me of Sexual Misconduct as a Freelance Writer

A Tale of Feedback Extortion

I can’t control what someone else says about me online. That’s true for all of us.

More than a decade ago, I Googled my name — come on, you do it, too — and I discovered two results from a website called Rip-Off Report.

You might have heard of it. Anyone can post anything about anyone or any company. It’s not regulated in any way, and if you want something removed, you have to pay for it.

I’m not a fan.

The comments were from someone whose name I didn’t recognize. The person accused me of plagiarizing content for him (her?) and offering sexual favors when I was “found out.”

At first, the words on the screen didn’t make sense. I realized that anyone would see these reports by Googling my name.

My face felt hot. I looked away from the screen. I shouted for my husband.

He read the Rip-Off Reports and shot me a scandalized look. I remember saying, “Yeah, that’s how I feel, times a million.”

There was no way to scrub the reports from the Internet.

I emailed Rip-Off Report to explain the situation. Someone had defamed me using accusations of sexual harassment. I wanted at least that part of the reports removed.

The response stated that Rip-Off Reports couldn’t be altered unless I signed up for some program (which cost hundreds of dollars). You know, to “manage my reputation.”

Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.

I went back and forth with the scum who run Rip-Off Report for several days until they finally stopped returning my emails. It became clear that I couldn’t remedy the situation — not this way, at least.

Those two comments remained online, accusing me of sexual misconduct (and plagiarism — let’s not forget that). It’s a source of shame that continues to haunt me today.

Then I received another email.

This one was from the person who posted the Rip-Off Reports. Apparently, he (she?) would remove the reports voluntarily if I sent $1,000 via PayPal.

Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.

I fired off a rather scathing email in response, throwing around words that would have earned me a look of horror from my grandparents. My promises to uncover the person’s identity and launch a lawsuit for defamation were genuine at the time.

But I knew later, after I’d cooled down and guzzled about three glasses of chardonnay, that I would never find myself in court. At least, not over this.

I’d never know who’d posted the reports or sent me the email via an anonymous address. I’d never get revenge against the person who libeled me online.

The case of double feedback extortion.

It’s a real thing. I’m not making it up.

The term “feedback extortion” has been popularized by eBay sellers. It refers to occasions when buyers threaten to post negative reviews if sellers won’t accede to their wishes.

They want a replacement product without returning the original. They want a full refund before they return a product. Most cases involve unreasonable requests.

However, feedback extortion has implications far beyond eBay.

Feedback extortion can happen to anyone who sells goods or services online. These days, people read online reviews before they purchase anything. It’s called social proof.

When someone posts a negative review about you or your business, you could lose money because of it. That’s why feedback extortion works.

In my case, the extortionist tried to get me to pay after he (she?) posted the negative review. It works the same way in reverse.

Today, those Rip-Off Reports remain online. Fortunately, my name has received sufficient mention on the Internet that the reports have been pushed down in the SERPs. Still, they’re a constant source of shame.

When I think about them, I feel my face get hot again. My pulse races. I feel vengeful.

But there’s nothing I can do about it.

If you’re the victim of feedback extortion (or plain-old fake negative reviews), you’ll want to throw things at your computer monitor. You’ll want to sue the pants off the responsible party. You’ll want to yell and drink lots of chardonnay and maybe even quit your job.

Don’t give in to any of those urges (except maybe the wine).

Instead, respond to the criticism. Remain as civil as possible. Let the person know that you’ll seek legal action if the opportunity presents itself.

Then do nothing. Because there’s nothing you can do about it.

The people who have worked with me know that I have one of the strongest work ethics in the business. They know I deliver clean, compelling copy. They know I don’t perform sexual favors for clients or plagiarize my work.

That’s what matters. Sure, a negative review might convince someone not to work with me. I have to be okay with that.

And so do you.

Conclusion

I didn’t link to those Rip-Off Reports here because I don’t want them to get any link juice and because I’m still ashamed that they exist.

You can seek them out if you like.

My goal here was not to point out the source of my shame and wring my hands. I’m interested in warning freelance writers about the reality of feedback extortion and fake negative reviews.

They exist. And there’s nothing you can do about them.

What you can do is generate lots of content about yourself online. Make yourself known. Get your name out there.

Push fake negative reviews to the bottom of the SERPs. Make them less easy to find.

That’s all you can do.

That, and speak out about this issue whenever you can. If someone you know plans to post a fake negative review, talk them out of it.

And if you ever get the urge to exact vengeance upon someone in this fashion, come back and read this article. Realize that your actions can have long-term repercussions.

After all, perpetrators can become victims, as well.

My fake negative review was published in 2006. That was 11 years ago. And I still think about it.

If you’re a struggling freelance writer, feel free to get in touch. You can reach me at laura.college@gmail.com. I enjoy helping other freelance writers find their way.